As someone who was born blind, I know technology can be a great equalizer.  And at Comcast, I’m proud to lead the team responsible for exploring how our products and services can open new doors to independence.  In fact, I think our industry-leading and sometimes unique focus on accessibility remains one of the overlooked consumer benefits of our pending transaction with Time Warner Cable.

Just consider what we’ve been up to in the last few months – we rolled out Voice Guidance on the X1 Entertainment Operating System in December, the industry's first "talking guide," a voice-enabled TV interface that has changed the way our Xfinity TV customers navigate television.  In February, we launched a national campaign called "Emily’s Oz" to help spark an even bigger conversation about how people with disabilities enjoy entertainment.  A short time after, Comcast accepted the Corporate Leadership Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). And last week, the American Foundation for the Blind recognized our accessibility efforts during their leadership conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

We are excited to share accessibility advancements like the talking guide with tens of millions of TWC customers from New York to Los Angeles once our transaction closes.

Here at Comcast, our approach to accessibility starts with integration and inclusion.  My team sits within our Technology and Product Development organization and we work alongside product leads, so accessibility is considered throughout the design and development process.  We also have made a point to include people with disabilities early on in the design and development phase through roundtable events, customer research, usability reviews, and industry partnerships.

Our new talking guide is actually a great example of this collaborative approach.  We conducted several rounds of usability tests with blind and visually impaired consumers, first at the CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference and later worked with the Associated Services for the Blind here in Philadelphia to recruit testers.  Last summer, I had the privilege of demonstrating the talking guide at the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and National Federation of the Blind (NFB) conventions.  You can hear the reaction it received at NFB here.

Since launching the talking guide, we’ve received tons of positive feedback from customers and non-customers alike.  We’ve also partnered with organizations dedicated to serving people with visual disabilities to bring our voice guidance technology to even more customers.

Initiatives like the talking guide and "Emily’s Oz" are just the latest in a series of innovations we are developing to make our products and services accessible.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Settings on the X1 platform now include an Accessibility Settings dashboard where customers can quickly adjust things like closed caption settings, video description, and Voice Guidance.
  • We’ve made significant accessibility improvements to Xfinity Connect, My Account, TV Go, TV, and other Xfinity mobile apps that harness the power of VoiceOver and Talkback.
  • With video description – available on select live and Xfinity On Demand programs – Xfinity TV customers hear narration in the natural pauses between the show’s dialogue that explains key visual elements of the program. We are adding more video described content to our platform and will work with key industry groups to boost awareness of the shows and movies that are available.
  • Enhanced closed captioning controls for readability are available across our platforms. These include font size, style, color, and opacity; background color and opacity and more.
  • We opened the Comcast Accessibility Lab in Philadelphia so our product designers and engineers can interact with an array of third party assistive technologies like screen readers, assisted listening devices, and eye tracking solutions to inform development of solutions that enable customers to enjoy Comcast products independently.
  • We created an online help and support resource for Xfinity customers looking for information about accessibility-related topics.
  • We have a service center specifically dedicated to customers with disabilities that includes a team of specially trained care agents.

We’re still just scratching the surface of what’s possible in the accessibility space.  Next up, we’re working on things like helping those with a disability navigate their smart home.  The transaction will give us an important opportunity to scale these innovations and reach even more customers who need accessibility tools.

We’re also looking beyond the audiences these technologies were originally designed for in the hopes of positively impacting even more people.  Accessibility solutions like the talking guide and a large button remote control can trigger new levels of independence for the elderly, those with learning disabilities, people who have difficulty reading, or for those for whom English is a second language.

So stay tuned, I can’t wait to show you what’s next.